Alluring Kashmir ‘book’ed beautifully!


Kashmir is a distinct region yet to be explored fully. Alluring Kashmir: The Inner Spirit is a beautiful book, where the authors ‘tell’ human stories against an awe-inspiring, natural backdrop. Their compelling and magical pictorial journey with the reader through the Valley – celebrating the ethereal beauty and the cultural diversity of this land as well as marking the shades of change and transition – has been painted with the lesser known colours, layers and textures which lie beyond the known dimensions of Kashmir.

Breathtaking photographs in varying shades and angles supported by well-researched, relevant text in Alluring Kashmir: The Inner Spirit are the tools to communicate to the reader a classical Kashmir—with its inherent rich culture and exotic landscapes set against unfamiliar facts, fables and space and the intimate aspects of daily life and its treasured moments. The book is published by Niyogi Books and written by Nilosree Biswas and Irfan Nabi.

Nilosree Biswas is a filmmaker whose documentary Broken Memory Shining Dust was an Official Selection at the 65th Cannes International Film Festival; it is now a part of academic library collections including Harvard and Columbia Universities, the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and the permanent archives of Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (Oscar Library). Currently her time is divided between photo books and in developing screenplays. While, Irfan Nabi believes images build stories. Irfan’s photographs have been exhibited at ‘Picturing Asia’ at the International Institute for Asian Studies at Leiden, The Netherlands in 2015 and ‘Food: Our Global Kitchen’ at the National Geographic Museum, Washington DC, 2014.

So far, the book has been very well received and readers have shared how wonderful was their experience of a virtual travel to Kashmir. The book has prompted many to plan a trip to Kashmir and even a revisit.

What the book entails?

As per Nilosree, Alluring Kashmir: The Inner Spirit is a book which lenses life and times in the valley of Kashmir going beyond the realm of geopolitics. “The book is about the lesser known free flowing life, the culture, the everyday narrative of Kashmir, a land of ancient history, culture and arts,” she says.

While Irfan shares that Alluring Kashmir is a tribute to the resilience of the common people of Kashmir who despite the most hostile and unpredictable sociopolitical environment dig deep into their infallible human spirit to carry on with regular aspects of life. “Routine life in conflict becomes the biggest challenge.

Having been born and lived in Kashmir, I have seen the many layered transitions of the social fabric there. In an attempt to document the inherent essence of Kashmir, I started photographing things that depict history, culture, faith and people. The research was through lensing people from varied walks of life and also listening to and interacting with them over the years,” he adds.

Bringing out such a well-researched book is not easy and Nilosree shares that the research for the book started way back in 2007 autumn, when she reached the valley to carry out an extensive recce and a series of interviews with master artisans for a documentary film on Pashmina for History Channel. “Over a decade, I collected insightful research materials by traveling length and breadth of the region, vividly observing rural lives of the valley,” she adds.

What Kashmir means to them?

“Travelling in Kashmir is an experience that left an imprint in me. The vast mountains, the postcard pretty villages, the smiling faces, the bountiful orchards…one would not want to remember countless army barracks and gun totting soldiers when recalling the ethereal land and its people. Unbelievable hospitality from all strata of people is what I have deep seated in my memory of Kashmir,” shares Nilosree. “I recall an elderly woman called Mehbooba Begum living in Kralpora village of north Kashmir all by herself and how cordial she was. She was so affectionate that I had to stay back at her modest home overnight and was treated with amazing Kashmiri food and many cups of ‘nun-chai’ (salty tea), a gesture that one would rarely find!”

For Irfan, Kashmir is home but home doesn’t usually entail an element of the so called ‘travel’ and this is the biggest myth he unlearnt while working on the book. “The realization of how little I have travelled within Kashmir stared in my face as I started exploring the not so popular destinations and tracking different people from most of the valley. Stopping to talk to the people on the streets opened up a whole new world and perspective. Innumerable anecdotes!” he shares.

An anecdote that never fails to make him smile is when after a brief chat with an elderly lady, selling apples he requested if he could take a photograph of hers and she broke into peals of laughter. “She said, “Son why are you clicking me when I am old, you should have seen me 45 years ago! I was beautiful then”. I had a hearty laugh and told her that you look most charming and beautiful even now as I see you, hoping this would make her feel reassured about my request. She chuckled and nodded, “Ok, come tomorrow, I will wear my favorite salwar kameez”. I returned the next day and got the shot that I wanted,” shares Irfan.

Target audience for the book

‘The target audience for Alluring Kashmir The Inner Spirit is pretty wide spectrum. It`s meant for all who love and are curious admirers of Kashmir. It is also for those ardent travelers who have frequented the place and yet have the passion to know more about Kashmir, its historical and cultural aspects. For someone who plans to visit Kashmir for the first time and even for armchair travellers who may not eventually travel to Kashmir in real,” tells Nilosree.

While, Irfan adds, “This book is for teenage children and younger generation born after 90s from Kashmir who need to be aware of our ancient and rich cultural history and to their counterparts in India and world over. In my opinion, cultural identity should not get mutated or hijacked with all eyes on Kashmir portraying it only as a conflict zone. Having interacted with many photographers, writers and travellers from across the globe, I found, there is a huge readership very keen to know about Kashmir as they find it a fascinating region, yet the information ultimately percolating to them is one dimensional and not diverse.”

Aim as a writer/photographer

“I aim to make my writing relatable. While am at my research, I often think of a narrative flow that initially may be stemming from my personal experiences but as the act of writing starts, universality gets added on. I also aim to entertain my readers with a storytelling that is vivid,” tells Nilosree.

While, Irfan adds, “I have a story conceived prior to my pressing the shutter! Many a times this does not play out as conceived but when it does, it is worth the hundred takes which failed earlier. My photographs usually have an interconnect within the elements of the frame – be it photographing people, street and even portraits. I write spontaneously and sporadically, planting myself as one of the characters, not figuratively but as if I were there invisible in the situation. I also keep hoping that the reader occupies the vacant seat in a scene.”

Hardest part of writing…

“I find it hard to write in a formatted manner and on ‘demand’. On another day, I can sum up the same pretty well. A second read of what I have written last, inadvertently leads me to want to makes changes or not like certain parts of it, thereby ending up in many drafts and disagreements with my co-author/editor,” tells Irfan.

While, Nilosree says, “Writing in totality is for me hardest of all creative exercises. I sometimes struggle to keep my plot coherent, gooey and consistent. I think of this as the gap of thoughts and penning them down, a typical trait of writer’s block that any writer may face. I am striving better with each book. The other difficult element of writing is the discipline it involves; I find it hard so far to make it a daily agenda.”

Writing advice to aspiring writers of any age…

“If you want to write, start now. Keep at it; persevere, even if it’s a single page at a time. There will be a point where you will like a certain sentence or a paragraph and that can be the genesis of you weaving many more such paragraphs leading to a story. I, after having written a certain portion pause, read it as a reader, to track how the flow is working. Also once in a while I ask few friends to read a certain chapter already written and observe very keenly their response or the emotion evoked. This offers to me an insight to the prospective readers mind,” says Irfan.

While, Nilosree says, “Read more than you would have otherwise, should you not desire to be an author.

Stay connected with real life, meet people, and interact without being intrusive. Be disciplined – make writing a part of your daily routine and lastly don’t get high on your own supplies!”

What next?

Nilosree is a filmmaker, author and for her filmmaking and writing are interwoven. “My observations as an author have always been laced with a pictorial element and many times the genesis of my storytelling begins somewhere during a documentary shoot much earlier than the conceptualization of a book. Life as I record them in my films are real and my writing is an extension of my connect with the ‘real’ and realism. I am currently working on the last leg of a photo travel book on Ladakh, followed by another long format non-fiction that entails a mix of myth, legend, reality,” she shared.

While, Irfan says, “As far as I recall, I used to paint well in school. A lot of school friends associate that with me. Decades went by and as I started traveling worldwide for work I found my lost connect of painting through the lens and since 2012 I had been regularly shooting. As we speak, a collection of haiku fiction titled Seeds Of Pomegranate will be available for readers. That apart, the Ladakh photo book as mentioned already by Nilosree is nearing completion. I am also working on a full-fledged fiction based on my travels in Middle East and South East Asia.”

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